chapter  3
9 Pages

‘Twinned Pairs of Eternal Opposites’: The Opposing Selves of Vita Sackville-West

This essay is concerned to discuss Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962) as a writer within the modernist period, through a reading of her novel All Passion Spent (1983) and of the biography Pepita (1986). Both texts-centred as they are on the lives of particular individual women (the aged Lady Slane in the novel and the flamboyant figure of Vita SackvilleWest’s grandmother, Pepita, in the latter)—appear as examples of the ways in which ‘female modernism challenged the white, male, heterosexual ethic underlying the modernist aesthetic of “impersonality”’ (Benstock, 1988, p. 21). For rather than distance herself from the materials in her work, Vita Sackville-West offers us in each of these very different books an opposing view of her own self. As Gillian Hanscombe and Virginia Smyers suggest in Writing for Their Lives: ‘modernist woman is not unconventional, she is anticonventional, wishing her creative energy to take every form of expression possible to her’ (Hanscombe and Smyers, 1987, p. 11).